Policy deals may come back to bite

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 06:47 02/09/2013
Labour candidates

LEADERSHIP CONTENDERS: David Cunliffe, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones.

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Labour's leadership hopefuls should be wary of losing the war to win the battle.

OPINION: The pork barrel style campaigning of the first two days of their leadership roadshow may or may not give one of them an edge over their rivals among the party faithful. But it goes without saying that the delegates who get to decide the next Labour leader are not the voters Labour needs to reach out to in 2014 to win the next election. To win back those swinging voters, Labour needs to grow its support in the political centre. With the exception of wild card Shane Jones, however, this leadership race has been all about the two main candidates, Grant Robertson and David Cunliffe,  racing to shore up their credentials on the Left. If they are not careful, the underdog Jones will steal a march on both of them. While his rivals have their gaze turned inward, he is reaching out over both of them to appeal to the voters who aren't card carrying Labour members. And his smoko room politics and harking back to old fashioned Labour values are far more likely to resonate with the wider public.

But all three of them are proving adept at making policy on the hoof.

The first day on the hustings had the candidates vying to gazump each other on policy including a living wage, repealing the Government's industrial relations law changes, a Pacifica TV channel, raise taxes on the wealthy,  regulate food prices and raise the minimum wage.

It may be small beer so far but Labour should be wary of a rerun of its disastrous 2011 election campaign. Its promises to scrap GST on fruit and veg and introduce a tax free band on income under $5000 resonated with the rank and file, but helped make it unelectable.

Promises are of course nothing new in deciding the leadership of our major parties. The difference is that the horse trading is usually done behind closed doors.

That makes Labour's leadership primary a breath of fresh air. But with the wheeling and dealing being done in the full glaze of publicity it is also much higher risk.

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